Thursday, January 22, 2009

1/23/09: Former Crew Player Ricardo Iribarren Named Crew Assistant Coach

Former Crew Player Ricardo Iribarren Named Crew Assistant:
COLUMBUS -- Ricardo Iribarren didn't know when he first joined the Columbus Crew midway through the inaugural 1996 season that some of the traits the fiery Argentinean defender displayed would eventually lead to his rejoining the club as an assistant coach more than a dozen years later.
The announcement Thursday that Iribarren, 41, was hired as an assistant to new head coach Robert Warzycha brings him full circle.

Iribarren (pronounced ee-REE-bah-REHN) signed with the Crew prior to its game on July 4, 1996, in Tampa against the Mutiny. The 11-year pro in Argentina and Ecuador was with the team for several days of training in Florida but seemed out of place everywhere but on the field. He was coming to a new league with new players who barely knew each other, much less one who spoke no English.

In one of the scrimmages, Iribarren was paired on the backline with Crew general manager Jamey Rootes. It didn't make a difference to Iribarren, who pointed and yelled and eventually pushed Rootes into what he believed to be the proper defensive position.

Even then, Iribarren had an eye for the game and no stomach for losing.

"I remember Tampa," said Iribarren, who eventually mastered English. "I knew Jamey was GM. He didn't seem to mind. He wanted me back the next season."

He moves into the slot vacated by Warzycha, who replaced Sigi Schmid as head coach in December less than a month after the Crew won its first MLS Cup.

"I'm happy to be back in Columbus," Iribarren said. "I'll be working with the best team, a team that won the championship and most of the guys are coming back. I already know the coach, Brian (Bliss) is there, Mike Lapper is there, too."

Iribarren played 16 games for Columbus in 1996 with Warzycha and Crew technical director Brian Bliss. Visa problems prevented Iribarren from playing in MLS the following season but he was a teammate of Warzycha and current Crew assistant Mike Lapper in 1998. Iribarren then played for Milwaukee of the A-League in 1999 before finishing his MLS career with the Dallas Burn in 2000.

His lone goal in the league came Aug. 10, 1996, against D.C. United when he scored on a bicycle kick in Ohio Stadium. Brian McBride had one assist. Who had the other? Warzycha.

After Dallas, Iribarren concluded his career with the A-League's Pittsburgh Riverhounds from 2001-03. He retired and became the team's technical director and head coach in July 2003 through 2005.

He led the Riverhounds to a 35-16-4 record in the USL1 and USL2 divisions. He also coached women's soccer at Chatham College in Pittsburgh from 2001-03 and held several other youth and high school coaching positions.

The past 2-1/2 years he was head coach and director of soccer for the American School Foundation in Mexico City.

"We competed against professional teams there," he said. "I watched a lot of soccer. They play year around so I learned a lot. I had to a chance to watch a lot of practices, training for different coaches. It was good for me.

"Hopefully, I can help the team wherever I can with my experience. I'm willing to do whatever Robert wants. I love soccer. It's been my life."

Iribarren traveled to Columbus from Pittsburgh Thursday night and will be on hand when training begins Monday.

"It is a pleasure to welcome Ricardo back to the Crew," Warzycha said. "His experiences and success in different environments and different parts of the world will be a great asset to our staff and we're all looking forward to getting started next week."

Iribarren adds to the Crew's Argentinean connection that includes league MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto and defender Gino Padula.

Although Iribarren is about six years older than Schelotto, they faced off many times during their playing days in Argentina and have several mutual friends.

"He's a great player who still wants to prove he is a great player," Iribarren said. "After winning 16, 17 championships with Boca Juniors, one of the best teams in the world, he came to the States and won a championship and had a great season."

Iribarren hopes more players from his homeland will come to MLS, specifically the Crew.

"I know people there (Argentina), depending on what the Crew needs and the expectations they have. I know a lot of coaches and people I used to play with. They're good friends," he said. "I also made many friends in Mexico. I'll do anything I can to help the team."


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